Burlington’s city council has turned down a contentious proposal to remove four lots along West Davis Street from the city’s primary historic district.
In a series of four votes on Tuesday, the council unanimously declined to approve these requests, which Allen E. Gant, Jr. and Patrick and Emily Robinson had lodged to have four properties along the 1000 block of West Davis Street removed from Burlington’s West Davis Street/Fountain Place Historic District.
The controversy over these proposed defections began in the spring of 2021 when Gant and the Robinsons submitted their requests to the city’s planning department. In justifying their request, these property owners pointed to the district’s antiquated design standards as well as the slow, cumbersome process they had to go through to make minor adjustments in landscaping or undertake even the most rudimentary maintenance projects.
In February of 2022, this application for secession was unanimously panned by Burlington’s Historic Preservation Commission, which is the final authority for building improvements and other changes within Glencoe Mill Village and the West Davis Street/Fountain Place historic district. Later that month, the city’s planning and zoning commission voted 4 to 3 against recommending the requests to Burlington’s city council.
Burlington’s city council conducted a public hearing on these applications in March of 2022. During this hearing, the council heard an outpouring of objections from other residents of the historic district who were afraid that the proposed withdrawal of the 1000 block would deliver a fatal blow to their tight-knit neighborhood.
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The council ultimately postponed its vote on the matter in order to give the city’s planning department time to complete an overhaul of the historic design standards. The council hoped that these upgrades would address the concerns of the would-be defectors had raised in their applications. The planning department went on to finish its overhaul over the next several months, and in August, the council approved a new set of design standards as well as streamlined procedures for evaluating building improvements.
Before the council’s rendered its verdict on Tuesday, council member Kathy Hykes took a few moments to recognize the significance that the completion of this overhaul had on her decision.
“I very much appreciate both sides of this question having brought to our attention that our guidelines around historic preservation needed some work,” she said. “It is very difficult for me to speak against somebody who has been very generous to our community,” she added in reference to Gant’s philanthropic activities. “But I really think that in the interest of fairness, this is the way it needs to go.”
“I think I learned a lot personally,” agreed councilman Bob Ward, “and the real benefit here is that we have improved our procedures considerably.”
“I think we were open minded that the existing standards needed a lot of work,” added Burlington’s mayor pro tem Harold Owen, “and I think that the changes that were made will be good for everybody involved.”
Mayor Jim Butler, who also voted against the applications along with councilman Ronnie Wall, echoed the prevailing sentiment that the city’s historic design standards needed a radical makeover.